Wild at heart, gentle on the soul

2010-06-10 00:00

PIETERMARITZBURG locals who have not visited the Karkloof Spa Wellness and Wildlife Retreat just 24 kilometres out of town on the Otto’s Bluff Road, will possibly associate the place with the prominent billboards that advertise it: the giraffe with the cucumber facial pads, and one just spotted at Oribi Airport, on which a rhino invites you for a facial. The billboards work, getting the message across that the spa is based on a private game reserve, 3 500 hectares of it in fact.

The reserve is large enough to carry rhino, and Karkloof has a black rhino and 11-and-a-half white rhino. That is, if a baby rhino born on February 26 counts as a half. We saw Big Mama and her baby within minutes of arriving at Karkloof. After leaving our vehicle at reception, we were taken on a mini game drive up to the lodge just past the spa buildings that are sympathetically built into the landscape, with grass growing on the rooftops, allowing animals to graze most of the day. On our short journey we also saw a large herd of buffalo, some zebra and nyala, and a few warthog darting away with their tails in the air.

The sound of running water, created by the network of waterways that run under the boardwalks throughout the property, is a soothing sound and a signature element at Karkloof. Our villa’s deck overlooked the bush and acacia trees and hills beyond, and inside was one of the biggest beds I have ever seen with inviting, crisp white linen.

We went to the spa for the Karkloof intuitive massage — a whole 90 minutes of bliss. Although many men have spa treatments on a regular basis, my man is not one of them, and I was determined to show him what he was missing. I asked that we use one of the treatment rooms for couples, as that would be a first for me. We were given the fluffiest gowns and slippers, and introduced to two shy Thai women. The idea of being pampered does not sit comfortably with everyone, so the gentle foot-cleansing ceremony that begins the treatment is a good icebreaker.

If you are a day visitor, you should leave enough time to enjoy all the facilities that are available to you. Sit in the bubbling Roman bath to ease the muscles and extend your relaxation, enjoy the sauna or the steam room and the outdoor jacuzzi. For the brave there are the Kniepp pools, comprising a pool of 42 degrees Celsius and another of eight degrees Celsius. Spend a few minutes in the hot pool and then plunge into the icy one — a shock to the system but invigorating. This is a treat of significant proportions, and if you can manage a stay at the lodge, the proportions expand exponentially.

We found slippers placed next to the bath on our return from our treatment, and candles and bath salts neatly laid out. Dinner served alfresco was sublime. A starter of warm pressing of goat’s cheese, potato and parsley, toasted almonds with spiced plum chutney was one of the nicest things I have tasted. Meal times are open-ended. You order your food when you are hungry, which is part of the goal of creating a sense of timelessness.

In the morning we headed out on a game drive and a walk to the Karkloof Falls, but not before a substantial breakfast.

Our guide explained some of the social history of the area and also its natural history. We approached the falls via an extensive set of boardwalks, much of the time with forest canopy overhead and the Karkloof River flowing past.

We reached the base and looked up, craning our necks as the water cascaded down and sprayed a thin mist, a very different experience from viewing Karkloof Falls from the Sappi viewing site at the top of the falls, reached via the Karkloof Road near Howick.

On crossing a small bridge we saw a fascinating display of butterflies hovering over a pile of fresh dung, a colourful yellow-and-blue fluttering. I asked entomologist Dr Jason Londt about the butterflies and he told me that they visit dung in order to get a high-protein meal, especially carnivore dung. Protein is needed for the maturation of their eggs, and butterflies usually feed on things like nectar and other plant juices, which are low in protein.

I do like the little creatures, but I enjoyed seeing Big Mama again with her rhino calf as they lazed in the shady grass — the vibe at Karkloof Spa seems to have rubbed off on them too.

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